Starting with a modest plan to help young Latina women express themselves through the art of photography, Las Fotos Project has grown into a community–based arts and literacy program with more than 30 workshops citywide.
Upon returning to Los Angeles from a photography project at a Mexican orphanage, Eric Ibarra, an arts activist and former business analyst, developed a pilot project at Para Los Niños. He envisioned a series of community-based, mentor-guided workshops in which young women could learn more about themselves and their communities by documenting their cultural environments. Later that year, the project was accepted by Community Partners for fiscal sponsorship, and Ibarra began to put funding in place.
Today from its headquarters in Boyle Heights, Las Fotos partners with schools in communities such as East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Koreatown, MacArthur Park, Santa Ana, Long Beach, South Los Angeles and Huntington Park. Since its launch, volunteer mentors have donated nearly 3,000 hours of their time, some 100,000 images have been created, and nearly 200 girls have completed The Empowerment Through Photography Workshop.
“If you stay focused you can impact other people,” says Ibarra. “It’s all about having a concept, finding the right partners, and seeing it through to fruition.”
Paired with professional photographers as mentors, participants learn much more than just how to point and shoot. In addition to creating photo essays, journals, and artist statements with vintage and digital cameras, the girls are encouraged to engage in projects that reflect their thoughts and concerns about their neighborhoods, schools and communities. Las Fotos empowers girls and young women to define, create, exhibit, and ultimately own their work.
Last spring, eight girls working with a mentor, mapped the community gardens and vegetation in Boyle Heights. Other workshops included a critical look at schools and the quality of education through the lens of a camera. And, as the program matures, several mentees are upping their commitment by taking on leadership roles.
Ibarra credits Community Partners with championing the project from its inception. “They have such a great track record in L.A., as well as solid relationships with every funder. Their staff is extremely supportive, so every question gets answered, and I’m directed to resources that will help the project grow. Because of Community Partners, I’ve changed the whole way I see our program.”